This weekend, I stumbled into a geek-convention jackpot. I was heading over to the Louvre on Sunday and passed by the convention center adjacent to the museum. Lo and behold, huddled among the exposed foundations of the original Louvre fortress, were hundreds (thousands?) of fans of “Magic: The Gathering,” a fantasy strategy game.
Conferences and conventions are tribal gatherings. A glimpse at their proceedings gives you an instant snapshot of the subculture’s personality, which I find oddly irresistible. If I’m passing through a hotel lobby, I can’t help but peek into the ballroom to see what the European Beekeeper’s Association is up to, or out what a gathering of undertakers looks like.
And friends, with the possible exception of motorsports enthusiasts, no convention is ever as diverting or as colorfully imagined as a geek convention. I couldn’t resist this one.
I walked through the welcome hall and past a 12-foot statue of a winged female warrior. I waded through a long line of people waiting to have fantasy artwork signed by the artists. I ducked into a room where hundreds of tournaments were underway, table upon table of boys and men (mostly around 20) duking it out with decks of collector’s cards. I finally wound up in a room with giant jumbo screens covering the final team tournament match between the Dutch and Japanese teams.
Turns out that it was the world championships of the “Magic: The Gathering” game. I had no idea that such a thing existed, but apparently the thing’s in its 13th year, this year offering a quarter of a million bucks in prizes. The Louvre gathering is the final stop on the game’s pro tour (pro tour!).
Phrases like “Scarwood Treefolk,” “Skittering Monstrosity,” and “Nightshade Assassin” were greeted by crowd applause.
I’m a geek, for sure, but this is not my particular strain of geekdom. Growing up, I was strictly a baseball-card kid. I’ve seen Ellen’s ten-year-old nephew slinging “Magic” cards. He quickly confused me with the game’s rules, and I’ve otherwise never seen the game.
I stuck around for the last ten minutes of the team match, but wasn’t bright enough to follow any of it despite the live loudspeaker commentary. Phrases like “Scarwood Treefolk,” “Skittering Monstrosity,” and “Nightshade Assassin” were greeted by crowd applause as the card players made what I can only suppose were inspired strategic moves. The presentation and energy were what you might expect from a high-stakes poker championship.
As I headed out of the convention hall and toward the museum galleries, the triumphant Dutch team ran past, hoisting the Dutch flag. I hollered a congrats on their inspired use of Eron the Restless (or, y’know, whatever) to win the match.
I have no idea what was going on, but of course that wasn’t the point. It’s always a kick to find yourself among impassioned enthusiasts. Even if the object of the enthusiasm holds little personal appeal, the mood is contagious.